NEWKIRK — The wife of Kay County's district attorney will face off against Kay County's first deputy court clerk Tuesday in a winner-take-all Republican primary race for Kay County court clerk. The election has some people talking about possible conflicts of interest.
The race pits Ruslyn Hermanson, wife of Kay County District Attorney Brian Hermanson, against First Deputy Court Clerk Marilee Thornton, wife of Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent William Thornton.
There are no Democrats in the race, so the winner of the Republican primary will win the election. The candidates are competing for an open position created by the retirement of longtime Court Clerk Mary Ramey.
Whether or not it would be a conflict of interest to have a district attorney married to the court clerk has been a topic of discussion in the community.
“It has been a big issue,” Marilee Thornton said. “I've tried to stay out of it because I just want to keep the job I've had for 13 years. ... I don't necessarily think it is a conflict, but I would not want to put myself in a position where everything I did was second-guessed because of who I'm married to.”
The conflict of interest questions arise because the district attorney represents the court clerk's office in civil matters and the district attorney's office files criminal charges with the court clerk's office.
Ruslyn and Brian Hermanson said they checked the situation out thoroughly before she filed for office and concluded no conflict exists.
“We did a lot of research about that,” Ruslyn Hermanson said. “Interestingly enough, we found that in many court systems there are husbands and wives, where maybe one's a judge and one's a court reporter, or maybe one's a judge and one's an attorney. That happens a lot. I think it's probably because there's the same interest that goes on in respect for the law and making sure the right things are done for people.”
Her prosecutor husband said he consulted with several people to make sure there wouldn't be a conflict, but said he didn't want to identify those people and “put them on the spot.” He said there are appropriate legal procedures for dealing with conflicts, should they arise.